Sheek: Maintaining the beautiful landscape of Cortez

Monday, May 14, 2018 2:34 PM
Karen Sheek

Spring is knocking at the door so it seemed appropriate to focus this month’s column on the city’s park superintendent, Mark Boblitt.

Mark heads a crew of two full-time and seven part-time employees whose job it is to maintain the landscaping in our public parks along with landscaping on city property throughout the community. In a recent conversation with Mark, he emphasized how proud and honored he has been to work with his crew over the 30-plus years he has been with the city.

“It’s a group effort by a very dedicated staff who all care about what they do and are very conscientious and take pride in their work,” he said.

Mark and his crew have a big job. There are more than 110 acres of parks throughout the city as well as several hundred acres of bike and hiking trails – with plans for another 11 or so once the new park on the south side of town is complete. In addition, his crew waters and maintains the Broadway medians, tends to city trees throughout the community, flower boxes and “spot landscaping” added throughout town to soften the concrete and add life and color to the city.

Cortez has a “Tree City USA” designation. With hundreds of trees throughout town, maintaining and caring for them is a huge job.

Recently, the city came under criticism because six mature trees were removed from the downtown central business district. Speaking from the perspective of an individual who cringes every time her husband even mentions in passing that the trees or shrubs in our yard need trimming, I understand the dismay expressed by a number of citizens at the removal of these trees. The city probably should have given citizens a bit more of a heads-up, but the fact remains that the trees should have been removed a number of years ago.

The downtown trees were planted in vaults. Over time, the root system of the trees caused the grates and pavers around them to heave, damaging the sidewalks and posing tripping hazards for pedestrians. It has been a constant battle by our Public Works Department to check this process. While it might have been less drastic, from a visual perspective, to continue to slowly replace offending trees over time, as Phil Johnson, Public Works director said, the consensus was “just rip off the Band-Aid,” and repair and replace everything as we complete other downtown projects this summer. Public Works staff is responsible for tree removal when necessary. Its staff removed trees on a weekend evening to minimize citizen inconvenience and then installed temporary asphalt overlays where trees used to be. Trees in temporary planters have been placed on these sites. They are species with deeper growing roots and more columnar growth – varieties better suited to the locations than the previous trees – and they will be permanently installed where possible.

Throughout the summer, root barrier material will be placed in the tree vaults to direct root growth downward, and the new trees will be planted. Mark is considering a “porous pour-in-place” material along with the pavers and grates previously used. In addition, the city will continue to seasonally place trees throughout Main Street to add a touch of green, along with beautiful flowers planted in these above ground planter boxes. At the end of the season, these temporary additions are then planted throughout the city where trees are desired along with replacing trees that have died or been damaged.

The city is continually looking for ways to enhance the appearance of our community, and the additional downtown flower boxes and trees have received many compliments. While working at Denny Lake awhile back, Mark was approached by a tourist couple who said that they thought Cortez has the “prettiest parks in the country,” which shows that not just residents are noticing. High praise and validation for all the hard work this department puts in.

Thank you Mark, and thanks to your crew for what you do to give our town “curb appeal!”

Karen Sheek is the mayor of Cortez, a position elected by Council members. Reach her at or during her office hours from 12:30-1:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.